20 Apr Stronglifts’ 5X5 vs. Starting Strength’s 3X5

I was recently asked why I don’t use five sets of five like StrongLifts, instead of the three sets of fives I advocate for.

I coach the three sets of five according to Starting Strength because I believe that program is optimal. I’m not dogmatic about this, I could very easily add two sets and coach StrongLifts. I have no problem with StrongLifts, it’s rational, effective and helps thousands of people. StrongLifts advocates for the (mostly)  same lifting models as Starting Strength as well. The two programs are cousins, if not brothers having their roots in Bill Starr’s programming.  (Rip is Aristotle to Starr’s Plato.)

I prefer three fives because they allow novices to move heavier loads than they can at 5 sets. These heavier loads drive bodyweight and strength gains faster.  The muscle mass piles on because we are able to increase the weight on the faster and farther on three sets of five.  Early in linear progression we can make often make 20pound increases between squat sessions, peaking at weights deep in the 300’s.  StrongLifts rarely sees novices do many, (if any) 20 pound increases and rarely sees a trainee break 300 pound squats on five sets across.

Novices would get stronger for a while with 10 sets of five, but would run out of linear progression at a very low weight.  One set of five just isn’t enough stress to drive the adaptation we all desire. Three sets of five has proven to be an optimal program for novices.

Additionally, it is a rare novice that is able to maintain proper technique and form across five difficult sets.  I demand that every rep be perfect.  That’s hard for a novice to achieve on the last of five sets.

If you are new to barbell training you should focus on perfect form and rapid accumulation of strength.  The two things three sets of five are perfect for.